Bruni

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Contents

Introduction

Learned Women

Importance of Reading

Guidance from the Past

Oratory and Poetry

The Importance of Expression

Epicurean Moral Philosophy

Aristotelean Moral Philosophy

Stoic Moral Philosophy

Virtue as Habit

Fortitude and Temperance

Liberality and Avarice

Good Temper and Affability

Justice

Virtues of the Soul

Intellectual Virtues 

Happiness

Sources

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Leonardo Bruni (1369-1444) was born at Arrezzo and is sometimes known as Leonardo Aretino. He is representative of the third generation of humanist scholars in the Italian renaissance. He became secretary to the papal chancellory under Innocent VII and John XII. Bruni moved from there to become Chancellor of the Republic of Florence from 1427-44.

       

 Bruni emerged as a eloquent spokesman for classical studies and humanism. His history of the people of Florence—a monumental work in 12 volumes—was the first critical account that avoided myth and fantasy.  Bruni was skilled in Greek, translating works of Aristotle, Plato, Plutarch and Demosthenes into Latin. He promoted the importance of education, particularly in regard to an understanding of the past and being able to express oneself. Bruni’s views on education, particularly of women, are contained in his letter to Baptista, the younger daughter of the Antonion, Count of Urbino. A summary of this is given in the first eleven of the extracts below, which are taken from this letter.

     

Bruni’s moral philosophy took account of a variety of Greek viewpoints, laying stress on his concept of virtue. A summary of this is contained in the remaining extracts, which are taken from his Isagogue of Moral Philosophy written for Galeotto Ricasoli. Bruni translates the Greek term "isagogue" as an introduction or overview of a discipline.

 

 

Learned Women

 

1   I am led to address this Tractate to you, Illustrious Lady, by the high repute which attaches to your name in the field of learning; and I offer it, partly as an expression of my homage to distinction already attained, partly as an encouragement to further effort. Were it necessary I might urge you by brilliant instances from antiquity: Cornelia, the daughter of Scipio, whose Epistles survived for centuries as models of style; Sappho, the poetess, held in so great honor for the exuberance of her poetic art; Aspasia, whose learning and eloquence made her not unworthy of the intimacy of Socrates.

 

2   You yourself, indeed, may hope to win a fame higher even than theirs. For they lived in days when learning was no rare attainment, and therefore they enjoyed no unique renown. Whilst we, alas, are fallen upon such times that a learned man seems well-nigh a portent, and erudition in a woman is a thing utterly unknown. For true learning has almost died away amongst us. True learning, I say: not a mere acquaintance with that vulgar, threadbare jargon which satisfies those who devote themselves to Theology; but sound learning in its proper and legitimate sense, viz., the knowledge of realities—Facts and Principles—united to a perfect familiarity with Letters and the art of expression. Now this combination we find in Lactantius, in Augustine, or in Jerome; each of them at once a great theologian and profoundly versed in literature. But turn from them to their successors of today: how must we blush for their ignorance of the whole field of Letters!

 

 

Importance of Reading


3   This leads me to press home this truth—though in your case it is unnecessary—that the foundations of all true learning must be laid in the sound and thorough knowledge of Latin: which implies study marked by a broad spirit, accurate scholarship, and careful attention to details. Unless this solid basis be secured it is useless to attempt to rear an enduring edifice. Without it the great monuments of literature are unintelligible, and the art of composition impossible. To attain this essential knowledge we must never relax our careful attention to the grammar of the language, but perpetually confirm and extend our acquaintance with it until it is thoroughly our own. We may gain much from Servius, Donatus and Priscian, but more by careful observation in our own reading, in which we must note attentively vocabulary and inflexions, figures of speech and metaphors, and all the devices of style, such as rhythm, or antithesis, by which fine taste is exhibited. To this end we must be supremely careful in our choice of authors, lest an inartistic and debased style infect our own writing and degrade our taste; which danger is best avoided by bringing a keen, critical sense to bear upon select works, observing the sense of each passage, the structure of the sentence, the force of every word down to the least important particle. In this way our reading reacts directly upon our style.

 

4   Now we notice in all good prose—though it is not of course obtrusive—a certain element of rhythm, which coincides with and expresses the general structure of the passage, and consequently gives a clue to its sense. I commend, therefore, to you as an aid to understanding an author the practice of reading aloud with clear and exact intonation. By this device you will seize more quickly the drift of the passage, by realizing the main lines on which it is constructed. And the music of the prose thus interpreted by the voice will react with advantage upon your own composition, and at the same time will improve your own reading by compelling deliberate and intelligent expression.

 

5   One might ask, further, what capacity in poetic composition or what critical ability or taste in poetical literature is possible to a man who is not first of all secure on points of quantity and meter? Nor is prose, as I have already hinted, without its metrical element; upon which indeed Aristotle and Cicero dwelt with some minuteness. A skilful orator or historian will be careful of the effect to be gained by spondaic, iambic, dactylic or other rhythm in arousing differing emotions congruous to his matter in hand. To ignore this is to neglect one of the most delicate points of style. 

 

 

Guidance from the Past

 

6   .  . . the cultivated Christian lady has no need in the study of this weighty subject to confine herself to ecclesiastical writers. Morals, indeed, have been treated of by the noblest intellects of Greece and Rome. What they have left to us upon Continence, Temperance, Modesty, Justice, Courage, Greatness of Soul, demands your sincere respect. You must enter into such questions as the sufficiency of Virtue to Happiness; or whether, if Happiness consist in Virtue, it can be destroyed by torture, imprisonment or exile; whether, admitting that these may prevent a man from being happy, they can be further said to make him miserable. Again, does Happiness consist (with Epicurus) in the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain: or (with Xenophon) in the consciousness of uprightness: or (with Aristotle) in the practice of Virtue?


7   But we must not forget that true distinction is to be gained by a wide and varied range of such studies as lead to the profitable enjoyment of life, in which, however, we must observe due proportion in the attention and time we devote to them.
        First amongst such studies I place History: a subject which must not on any account be neglected by one who aspires to true cultivation. For it is our duty to understand the origins of our own history and its development; and the achievements of peoples and of kings.
        For the careful study of the past enlarges our foresight in contemporary affairs and affords to citizens and to monarchs lessons of incitement or warning in the ordering of public policy. From History, also, we draw our store of examples of moral precepts.

 

 

Oratory and Poetry

8   The great orators of antiquity must by all means be included. Nowhere do we find the virtues more warmly extolled, the vices so fiercely decried. From them we may learn, also, how to express consolation, encouragement, dissuasion or advice. If the principles which orators set forth are portrayed for us by philosophers, it us from the former that we learn how to employ the emotions—such as indignation, or pity—in driving home their application in individual cases. Further, from oratory we derive our store of those elegant or striking turns of expression which are used with so much effect in literary compositions. Lastly, in oratory we find that wealth of vocabulary, that clear easy-flowing style, that verve and force, which are invaluable to us both in writing and in conversation.

                   

9   I come now to poetry and the poets—a subject with which every educated lady must show her self thoroughly familiar. For we cannot point to any great mind of the past for whom the Poets had not a powerful attraction. Aristotle, in constantly quoting Homer, Hesiod, Pindar, Euripides and other poets, proves that he knew their works hardly less intimately than those of the philosophers. Plato, also, frequently appeals to them, and in this way covers them with his approval. If we turn to Cicero, we find him not content with quoting Ennius, Accius, and others of the Latins, but rendering poems from the Greek and employing them habitually. Seneca, the austere, not only abounds in poetical allusions, but was himself a poet; whilst the great Fathers of the Church, Jerome, Augustine, Lactantius and Boethius, reveal their acquaintance with the poets in their controversies and, indeed, in all their writings. Hence my view that familiarity with the great poets of antiquity is essential to any claim to true education.

 

10   But I am ready to admit that there are two types of poet: the aristocracy, so to call them, of their craft, and the vulgar, and that the latter may be put aside in selecting a woman’s reading. A comic dramatist may season his wit too highly: a satirist describe too bluntly the moral corruption that he scourges: let her pass them by. Virgil, on the other hand, Seneca, Statius, and others like them, rank with the noblest names, and may—nay, must—be the trusted companions of all who aspire to be called cultivated.

 

 

The Importance of Expression


11   To sum up what I have endeavored to set forth. That high standard of education to which I referred at the outset is only to be reached by one who has seen many things and read much. Poet, Orator, Historian, and the rest, all must be studied, each must contribute a share. Our learning thus becomes full, ready, varied and elegant, available for action or for discourse in all subjects. But to enable us to make effectual use of what we know we must add to our knowledge the power of expression. These two sides of learning, indeed, should not be separated: they afford mutual aid and distinction. Proficiency in literary form, not accompanied by broad acquaintance with facts and truths, is a barren attainment; whilst information, however vast, which lacks all grace of expression, would seem to be hidden from sight or partly thrown away.

 

 

Epicurean Moral Philosophy

 

12   As a rule, the first consideration in this study, I believe, is whether there is any end or extreme in human affair's to which everything we do must be referred. The second consideration is what that end is. The third is how it is to be attained. . .Do our desires never come to rest? Or is there some final and ultimate end, which, when we have at last attained it, can satisfy us? We must allow that there is some such end, for otherwise, our desires would be proven vain and foolish, and an infinite progression and many other absurdities would follow logically from this.

 

13   One school maintained that pleasure was the final and ultimate end which is sought for its own sake, and for whose sake we do everything else. . . In consequence, they hold that men should be virtuous since it is in fact the virtues which produce the greatest number of pleasures, while it is the consciousness of failings and wickedness, on the other hand, which causes vexation and torment. Those empty desires, which consume the whole life of the foolish, only agitate the mind and allow it no rest. They therefore maintained that the wise man would choose to pass over the lesser pleasures and seek after the greater; he would endure small pains in order to avoid the greater and more serious ones. This, generally speaking, was the opinion of Eudoxus, Aristippus, and Epicurus, although there was some disagreement more or less as to the importance of bodily pleasures.

 

 

Aristotelean Moral Philosophy

 

14   There was another school, however, that deemed happiness to depend upon, and the happy life to consist in, the practice of virtue. Man is naturally constituted to perform a certain activity proper to himself alone. But this activity cannot be the simple act of living, since that is shared with the plants; nor is it sensation, since even the brute animals possess sensation. It is, rather, life and action according to reason. Whoever uses his reason with ability and excellence fulfills the proper work for which he was naturally constituted. To live and act well: that is the highest good of man we are seeking. Aristotle, Theophrastus, and all the other Peripatetics generally held to this position.

 

15   But many difficulties would seem to arise if one asks whether this sort of life really lies within the power of the wise man; that is, whether the good man can maintain himself in the happy life by virtue alone. For it is possible for a wise man and good man, learned and accomplished though he be in all virtues, to be reduced to a state of poverty, bereavement or exile; he could lose his country, have his patrimony taken from him, his children and relatives killed. He might even be cast into a tyrant's prison, be put upon the rack and subjected to horrible and pitiable tortures. Who could still call him happy amid so many evils, even though he were overflowing with virtues?

 

16   For this reason, the philosophers of whom I speak distinguished three kinds of good: the goods of the soul, of the body, and of external circumstances. Happiness they placed among the goods of the soul (the greatest and most important goods). In addition, they said, a man ought to possess the corporeal goods and the external goods, not because they are in themselves directly productive of the happy life, but because without them the virtuous actions upon which happiness is based could not take place.

 

 

Stoic Moral Philosophy

 

17   But Zeno and his followers, the Stoics, who were very strict and rigorous men indeed, were of another opinion about the highest good. They said nothing was good except what was of moral worth, and in moral worth, they maintained, the happy life lay. Now the morally worthy deed is that which is done virtuously, laudably, and well. For just as an action done in a cowardly, libidinous, or mean fashion is called base and shameful, so an action which is done bravely, worthily, and with self-control we declare to be noble, seemly, and beautiful. They held that favorable conditions of the body or of fortune were not goods, and that unfavorable conditions were not evils. Virtue alone they considered sufficient for happiness: neither imprisonment, nor torture, nor any pain whatever, nor poverty, nor exile could stand in the way of the happy life.

 

 

Virtue as Habit

 

18   We must first grasp this: all virtue is a constant disposition of the mind which is commonly called a habit. . . men are by nature born capable, through training and practice, of the habits of justice, temperance, and the other virtues. Thus, what was by nature imperfect can be perfected by long practice. We may conclude, then, that every real virtue is a habit, acquired by training and mental discipline, and its exercise is presently brought to perfection through experience and knowledge.

 

19   Now the first distinction to be made between the virtues is this: some are moral virtues, and some are intellectual. They are alike in that they are all habits, but differ in that the moral virtues operate in the part of the soul without reason, whereas the intellectual virtues operate in the rational part. Moreover, a moral virtue is a sort of mean between excess and defect, but an intellectual virtue cannot be in excess and is not a mean. Again, the moral virtues treat of actions and dispositions while the intellectual virtues are more concerned with the apprehension of truth. There are five intellectual virtues: wisdom, knowledge, prudence, understanding, and art. The number of moral virtues is larger. Every human passion which goads or pulls at us is resisted by an opposing virtue. Whence it follows that all moral virtues by definition require effort.

 

 

Fortitude and Temperance

 

20   Now it is a grave matter to suffer physical harm, and a grave matter to face death. These things are, if you will, the gravest of all matters. Yet occasions do arise when a wise man will prefer an honorable death to a disgraced life, when suffering physical harm for the sake of glory is better than being healthy but despised. For such occasions that marvelous virtue fortitude was brought into being. It is without doubt the fairest of the virtues, the theme of orators, the virtue so esteemed among men, that we commonly see the statues of the dead dressed in military garb, as though to win military distinction in one's life were specially admirable. It is indeed quite common for fortitude to appropriate the term 'virtue' for its own.

 

21   Now fortitude is proper only to men, but temperance applies both to men and women. Temperance is concerned with controlling lust. Just as fortitude recalls us from flight, so temperance keeps us from pursuit. Hence, they are in a sense contrary to each other: the one trumpeting 'charge,' as it were, the other sounding the retreat. Temperance further concerns those pleasures which we have in common with the other animals. For this reason they are held to be not truly human pleasures, but rather servile and brutish ones.

 

 

Liberality and Avarice

 

22   We have spoken of the dispositions of the soul in the states of fear and lust. What about avarice? Is it not a difficult passion to bridle? There is a virtue called liberality which combats this species of immoderation. It is a certain mean between getting and spending, removed on the one hand from sordid avarice, and equally from thoughtless prodigality. The avaricious man is too eager to acquire money and too parsimonious in spending it. These two traits are reversed in the prodigal man: he is careless about acquiring money and too freehanded in his largess. The liberal man is midway between these two: he understands where, when, and how much to take in and pay out, and by following reason and by practice he soon forms a habit of so acting.

 

23   As liberality has to do with the desire for money, so there is another virtue having to do with the desire for honors, a virtue opposite to ambition. This virtue, however, has never been named. There are some people who pant after honors more than they ought, whom we call the ambitious; they act in practically the same way as the avaricious do in getting money. Others, out of mean-spiritedness, avoid honors—even those that can be sought honorably. There is a particular virtue between these two vices, which is perfectly clear to the mind, but for which there is no agreed-upon term. Both this virtue referring to honors and liberality are connected with two great virtues, magnificence and magnanimity.

 

 

Good Temper and Affability

 

24   The next virtue is good temper. It too defends against lust; not the lust for money or honor, but for revenge. The lust for revenge, or wrath, tends to become too violent; it is therefore resisted by good temper. Both the lack of good temper, sloth, and its excess, wrath, are vicious; but the mean, which exhibits the proper degree of indignation, against, and on behalf of the proper persons, is praiseworthy."

 

25   There are also many vices possible in our everyday existence and relationships with others. For example, we find on the one hand people who are contentious, surly, harsh, puritanical, misanthropic; and on the other hand, sycophants who will agree to anything in order to please. Both these extremes are vicious. The median virtue between them is similar to friendship, removed alike from both obsequiousness and churlishness. In the same way, boastfulness and understatement should both be avoided in one's daily intercourse: the former lies by saying too much, the latter by saying too little. The proper mean here (though it is closer to understatement than to boastfulness) is gravity. Again, since there are in life times of rest and diversion—a man can't work all the time, after all—there is also a middle degree in forms of entertainment. If you flee from all pleasantry, you are a boor; but if you snatch every opportunity to make a jest, sparing neither rank nor honor to get a laugh, you are a buffoon. Between these two extremes there is a median virtue of a sort which may be called affability.

 

 

Justice

 

26   There is a certain proper behavior enjoined by law, commanding us to do all acts of virtue and forbidding any acts of vice. For instance, there are laws of continence, such as 'Do not commit adultery', 'Do not indulge in perversions;' laws relating to fortitude, such as 'Do not run from battle,' 'Don't desert your post,' 'Don't throw away your weapons;' laws of good temper, such as those that outlaw oaths, fighting, and slander, and so on with the rest of the virtues and vices, the former being commanded and the latter forbidden. But acts elicited by the law are called just acts. Therefore, the part of justice which acts as a guardian and keeper of the laws has a certain universality about it, containing in itself the practice of all the virtues. Hence, since it includes the practice of every virtue, it is called 'perfect,' as though it were an absolute and all-encompassing sort of virtue. Whereas the other part of justice (particular justice) that we said had to do with fairness lies in us all getting neither more nor less than our share of advantages and disadvantages. Hence the two kinds of justice: one is a universal virtue, the other a singular.

 

 

Virtues of the Soul

 

27   Whenever I speak about virtue proper, then, whether moral or intellectual, you must understand that I speak of the virtues of the soul, not of the body. Now the parts of the soul are two: one is rational, the other not. The non-rational part is partly vegetative (it manifests itself also in plants) and completely empty of reason, and partly appetitive, with a capacity for desire, fear, and all the passions, and, although non-rational, attentive and obedient to reason. This latter part of our soul we rebuke when it errs, restrain when it becomes presumptuous, rouse when it is lazy, and console when it is troubled. We direct it and compel it to conform to reason. Finally, it is in this part of the soul that moral virtuewhich is a habit acquired by the practice of preserving a mean in the passionsis made. The irrational part of the soul then is double, as I have shown.

 

28   The rational part is also double. One part is consultative, the other scientific. The consultative part deals with opinion while the scientific part deals with certain knowledge. In the rational part of the soul the intellectual virtues are formed, and they are divided in the same way that the rational soul is divided.

 

 

Intellectual Virtues

 

29   We said earlier that there were five intellectual virtues. Among these we come first of all to prudence, since in its activity it is generally allied with the moral virtues. Prudence is the same thing as right reason, which is controlled by the moral virtues, and which, fleeing from extremes, causes us to rest in a morally excellent mean. Whence it follows that none of the moral virtues can exist without prudence.

 

30   Choice is so called because one plan is chosen or adopted from many possible ones. It takes place when we choose the best and most desirable from many advantageous courses of action, or when of many disadvantageous ones we choose the least evil. But this varies with the accidents of time, and our deliberations are guided by experience. And so, while prudence has to do with variable situations, knowledge, on the other hand, deals with certainties. It does not treat of first principles, however, but moves discursively from what is already known. Understanding, though, does have to do with first principles. And wisdom embraces both, discerning and passing judgment on first principles and their consequences.

 

 

Happiness

 

31   Now of the many virtues we've discussed, some are clearly reserved to the contemplative life of retirement, while others are more suitable to the active, civic life. Wisdom, science, and understanding, for example, nourish the contemplative, but prudence controls every active pursuit. Both kinds of life have their proper kind of esteem and merit. The contemplative life is, to be sure, the more divine and rare, but the active is more excellent with respect to the common good. Thus, both in private and in public life, whatever we do excellently and creditably either for the sake of ourselves, our country, or those we hold dearest, it all comes to us from prudence and the virtues connected with it.

 

32   Happiness is truly our goal in all of life; we are born with a desire for it. We ascend to it, not through vice and lust which are in themselves despicable and incapable of giving peace to the soul, but through virtue and moderation. The way to happiness is straight and swift for the good man. He alone is not deceived and does not fall into error. It is he that lives and acts well, not the evil man. If, then, we would be happy, let us make great efforts to be good men and practice virtue.

 

 

Sources

 

1-11 Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators. Edited by W. H. Woodward. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1912. Extracted from the electronic text of the Hanover Historical Texts project: scanned, proofread and posted by Raluca Preotu, 1998-1999; proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, April 2001.

 

12-32 Excerpts from The Humanism of Leonardo Bruni, by Gordon Griffiths, James Hankins, David Thompson, MRTS vol. 46 (Binghampton, NY, 1987). Copyright Arizona Board of Regents for Arizona State University.